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Mt. Thor Expedition

Baffin Island, Canada

In the summer of 1982 I was part of a group of cavers on an expedition to Mt. Thor on Baffin Island, just north of the Arctic Circle. Our goal was to rig a mile-long rope down the overhung west face of this 5,000 foot mountain in order to make the world's longest single-rope rappell and climb.

Hiking into Thor with 80 pounds on my back across endless miles of glacial scree was one of the toughest things I've ever done. It took me over 16 hours of trudging into a steady 20 MPH wind to make the 10 mile hike. I was alone nearly the entire time. Towards the end, I remember falling down more than once and going to sleep for a few minutes with the pack still strapped to my back. When I finally reached the base of Thor around 2:00 AM, I crawled into a tent and slept for 24 hours straight.

From our base camp at the foot of the mountain, we crossed the meltwaters from the Fork Beard Glacier with Mt. Thor ominously in the background, then climbed the steep hillside 2,500 feet until we stood atop the massive glacier. We made camp on a snowfield and waited two days before we were able to move up the 45 degree scree slope and cliff faces that formed the back side of the mountain.

The drop at Thor was 3,300 feet, about half of which hung completely free from the wall. Looking down with absolutely nothing to use for scale--there are no trees in the Arctic--it was impossible to judge the distance. I remember feeling the rope getting lighter beneath me as I descended, looking down at the boulders below me, and estimating that I had about 100 feet to go. A moment later I was startled to discover that the boulders I figured to be the size of cars were actually the size of footballs. I was hanging less than five feet off the ground.

Steve Holmes (aka "Flatrock") was the organizer and leader of the expedition. Unfortunately, when we got to the Arctic, dissention arose in the ranks from some who didn't agree with his style of leadership. At the time I didn't appreciate how much pressure was on Holmes. At one point, frustrated by delays, he set off alone to climb the back side of the mountain. While descending from the summit, he took a nasty fall and very nearly went over a thousand foot drop. Today, if you look in the Guiness Book of World Records, you'll see his name listed for the world's longest rappell. He earned it. Steve Holmes pretty much dropped out of caving after the Thor Expedition. The last time I saw him was at the base camp as I loaded my pack to start the trip home.


  • Title: Dan Twilley climbing the backside of Mt. Thor
  • The author about 12 hours into his 18 hour hike. Note size of pack.
  • Stream crossing with Thor in background.
  • Crossing the Fork Beard Glacier on the backside of Thor.
  • Jim Youmans hanging just below the rig point.
  • Looking straight down the 3,300 foot drop
  • Steve Holmes comes by to say adios.

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